In these spring months when we are already tired of consuming pears, apples and oranges and when cherries, apricots or medlars have not yet arrived, strawberries become the queens of greengrocers. Low in calories, rich in vitamins and antioxidants, it is a delight to eat them fresh, although macerating also suits them very well, and they are the basis of classic sweet preparations when combined with ingredients such as chocolate or cream. Strawberries are as fragile and original as they are beautiful and tasty. Their intense red, their conical heart shape and their sweetness have made them a symbol of gastronomic glamour.
You just have to know how to treat them. Do you know what is the ideal way to preserve them? Can you distinguish the wild strawberry from the strawberry? Are you afraid of cooking salty dishes with them? Can you make a strawberry shortcake? And what about his idyll with vinegar and orange juice?
These are the 14 mistakes you make when buying, processing and even eating spring strawberries.
1. Not distinguishing between strawberries, strawberries and wild strawberries
What do we usually buy, strawberries or strawberries? To understand it, a little botanical history is needed. Since Roman times, Europe has had its own native strawberries (Fragaria vesca), which we now know as wild, explains food guru Harold McGee. But most of the current varieties (Fragaria Ananassa), large and red, derive from two ancestors, North America and Chile, which took root well in the old continent, and from which hybrids and mutations arose.
2. Think that size defines quality.
The size does not define the quality of the strawberry that we find in stores, although as a general rule the larger ones tend to be more watery and tasteless. “In Spain we always want a big horse, whether it walks or not,” smiles Escandell, who exports thousands of strawberries daily to many countries from Mercabarna, and notes that in France and England they like the smallest strawberries for a cultural reason, since they are accustomed to eating them that way because in their territory they are born in summer and small.
3. Choose them too green because they are prettier
It is difficult at first glance to distinguish if a strawberry is going to be good for us. For Vicenç Escandell, the main problem is that we seek perfection in form and that is not always synonymous with higher quality. For example, if the banana or the peach from the vineyard have a speck, that indicates that it is at the optimum point of ripeness.
The same does not happen with the strawberry, since if it is stained it is because it has some disease, but “if it arrives a little marked or a little chafada by contact with others, people no longer choose it, and that is precisely the proof of that they are ripe and therefore they are sweeter and softer”. If they are still green they will not be as tasty.
Other clear signs of ripening are that the white part is not large, that it gives off a fragrant aroma and that the red color is intense and bright.
4. Do not choose proximity strawberries
Strawberry plants are easy to grow and are widespread throughout the world, from subarctic Finland to tropical Ecuador. If we choose local strawberries, we are much more likely to eat them at the optimum point of ripeness, something that is not easy to achieve. Strawberries are a fragile fruit that stops ripening once it has been cut. They may redden a little but do not improve their sweetness.
If the strawberries are picked too ripe and have a long journey ahead of them, they will not reach the consumer well. Escandell says that those that are collected today in Huelva (where most of those consumed in Spain come from) will already be in wholesale markets such as Mercabarna tomorrow morning. Something that does not happen with Moroccan strawberries, “which enter Europe as if it were a community country but they take two or three more days.”
On the other hand, the weather is also a factor that influences which strawberry from the same area can be very good this week and very bland the next. “The plant is very sensitive to cold and humidity, if it rains they don’t come out as tasty.”
5. It takes many days to eat them
Due to their thin skin and fragile structure, strawberries only last a few days. “If we like it a lot, it is better that we buy several times in a week than not many at once.” Vicenç Escandell is in favor of putting them in the fridge, and taking them out half an hour before consuming them because the cold makes them lose flavor. Eric Ortuño, owner of the L’Atelier pastry shop in Barcelona, prefers not to have them in the fridge, because the temperature changes do not favor strawberries. Even if you macerate them with vinegar, you cannot keep them in the fridge for more than 3-4 days.
You have to be careful and separate the strawberries in poor condition so that the rest do not rot by contact. Even so, Iolanda Bustos, a chef specialized in botany, recommends that we not throw them away if they are touched, and take advantage of their healthy part to make a strawberry vinegar.
6. Freeze them as a preservation method
Freezing the strawberry does not favor it. Experts do not recommend it as a preservation method unless you have bought too many and decide to freeze them and then make some preparation with them, such as a smoothie. Chloé Sucrée, in the vegan recipe book Biotiful Kids (Grijalbo), proposes a smoothie with strawberries and cauliflower that is subtle and not too sweet, ideal for children.
If you have frozen the strawberries and want to eat them fresh, it will no longer be the same because “they will have lost all the water,” says Escandell.
On the other hand, strawberries can perfectly coexist with intense cold if we want to make an ice cream. “In that case it’s different, because we crush them and mix them with cream or with a sorbet,” says Eric Ortuño. To achieve a creamy texture and proper freezing, we must not forget to put a high proportion of sugar and, above all, mash the strawberry well “to avoid leaving large pieces that harden in the freezer”.
Strawberry popsicles are easy to make and very tasty. For 4 or 5 popsicles, Eric advises us to mix a yogurt with 30 grams of sugar and 100 grams of crushed strawberries.
7. Too much contact with water
Cleaning the strawberries is the first step before making them. We remove the stem and pass them through water, although it is not necessary to do it excessively. In fact, Vicenç Escandell assures that the pesticides used in Europe (which are not the same as in Morocco) are very mild, “almost inefficient”, and that each box of strawberries is also highly controlled. It is possible to follow the entire traceability line through the barcode.
After washing them with a little water, it is important to drain them well or dry them immediately with absorbent paper because moisture is very damaging. You should never store them wet because they soften, “unless they are in a syrup or vinegar,” says Eric Ortuño.
Water in general does not go well with strawberries. As they already have enough of their own water, the pastry chef reminds us that it is not advisable to add more to sweet preparations.
8. Put too much vinegar
A basic way to increase the intensity of the flavor of strawberries is to macerate them in a few drops of vinegar. Eric Ortuño advises us to make it balsamic to offset the acidity of the strawberries. “We cannot go overboard with the quantity because it would take too much of the vinegar flavor. A little sugar is added, and after an hour of cold rest, they release a fantastic juice”.
Iolanda Bustos ferments them with water, a little lemon juice, a little salt and oil to make strawberry vinegar. He reserves it for three weeks.
A basic way to increase the intensity of the flavor of strawberries is to macerate them in a few drops of vinegar
Strawberries can also be macerated with orange juice, for example. Eric Ortuño recommends the Robuchon style: Cover the fruit well with a few drops of orange blossom water. A few mint leaves on top can also go well. “You have to eat it fast.” Escandell likes to cut strawberries into small cubes, because they macerate and absorb liquids better.
9. Not using the right cream and not whipping it well
Strawberries with cream are another classic, a combination that never fails. The main mistake is making a mistake with the cream. It must be with a fat content of 35% and we must mount it “little to make it softer” and always do it cold, at a temperature of 3 degrees so that it rises well. It is also important to eat them right away to prevent them from getting watery. And if you want to add sugar, you should not add more than 9% of the amount of cream you are using.
If we want to make this dish more appetizing for children, Chloé Sucrée (Biotiful Kids) proposes creating clouds of organic cream or whipped coconut cream with a spoon, mix them with the strawberries and sprinkle the result with chocolate.
And if the cream does not suit us, Iolanda Bustos advises “replacing it with oil, which will provide the creamy component and will be very tasty.” A little sugar and a few basil leaves complete the dessert.
To make a strawberry mouse, Eric Ortuño uses whipped cream and a meringue with egg white to make it smoother. We cannot forget the gelatin, and bear in mind that, depending on the amount that we put, the result will be more or less curdled.
10. Include strawberries in a cake batter
If we are going to make a sponge cake with strawberries, it will be a big mistake to include this fruit in the batter because when it comes time to cook it in the oven, the strawberries will let go of all their water and it will not be well done. Blueberries and raspberries accept this cooking well, but strawberries do not. “The cake hasn’t finished cooking well, the dough is softened and watery,” Ortuño points out.
That is why it is advisable to limit ourselves to putting the strawberries on top of the cake as decoration. Of course, very fresh and hard so that they are presentable.
On the other hand, if we make a strawberry jam, we heat it without any problem with sugar (700 grams per kilo), and let it cook until the jam has the right texture: “We check it by putting a drop on a plate”. Then we add lemon juice to intensify the color and serve as a natural preservative.
11. Using soft strawberries to cover them with chocolate
To make chocolate covered strawberries, one of the symbols of gastronomic sophistication, it is very important that the fruit has not been previously frozen. It must be fresh and very firm for the result to be perfect. It is an elaboration as simple as it turns out, but pay attention to the chocolate. Eric Ortuño explains to us that we should not heat it excessively. “In the movie Chocolat, Juliette Binoche said, quite rightly, that it doesn’t have to be hot or cold to make it shine and crisp,” she recalls.
For the chocolate to harden well, cover the strawberries and leave them in the fridge for about 10 minutes. We can use both white, dark or milk chocolate.
Strawberries can also be eaten with melted chocolate, dipping them like churros.
12. Thinking they can’t be used in savory dishes
Strawberries are a fruit that we naturally associate with desserts, but that does not mean that they do not also work well in the salty world, especially in cold cooking. Iolanda Bustos, who is in love with the Charlotte variety, recommends them to us in gazpachos, various shakes and salads (with ingredients such as green asparagus, prawns, pineapples, blueberries, walnuts, avocados, cheeses…). The flower cook likes to make a chutney (sweet and sour Indian jam) with vinegar, a dish that turns out like a very rich marinade.
We can also include strawberries in cold creams, in a tartar or even make an aperitif cocktail. In the recipe book Strawberries (Senttia collection) a summery strawberry and cucumber cocktail appears, which mashes the fruit and vegetables with a little mint and binds it to a light and cold syrup. It also gives us another idea: combine a hummus with a mini strawberry salad, with pistachio and cucumber, seasoned with oil, vinegar and pink pepper, and topped with basil.
13. Heat up a wild strawberry
Large strawberries or strawberries can come into contact with fire to make preparations such as jam or custard, but Iolanda Bustos does not recommend using them in hot soups “because they have too much water and we should confit them beforehand. It doesn’t pay off for us.” In addition, in cold cooking, “they preserve their flavor much better”.
If we talk about wild strawberries, the cook – who is eagerly waiting for them to appear in her environment in a few weeks – warns us that we will not be able to treat them culinaryly. “They are so delicate that they must be eaten fresh, not trying to make anything complex,” he says. Eric Ortuño corroborates it: “In addition to being fragile, when you heat them, they make them bitter”.
Bustos adds that it is not worth using them even to make a simple ice cream because “we would need a lot,” he says. And they are not cheap.
14. Thinking that they are only good in spring
The fact that strawberries are now the queens of the greengrocer does not mean that we do not have some all year round, and that there are even times when they can become richer – not cheaper – than in March, April and May. When? In the months of December and January. And because? Well, because strawberries with the cold ripen more slowly for a longer time and become larger fruits, with firmer skin and even sweeter flavor than spring ones. “In winter, from when the flower appears until we harvest the fruit, it can take 50 days, but in spring, as it is warmer, in 15 days they can complete the same cycle,” explains Vicenç Escandell.
In the countries further north, where temperatures are lower, strawberries are born in summer and are not as large as here.
On the peninsula, the plant produces more strawberries in spring than in the rest of the year. They come to us mainly from Huelva. In summer, the production moves to cold areas, at a height of a thousand meters, in Segovia and Ávila. “They continue to be sold, but less so, because they have a lot of competition with the other summer fruits.”
Source: The Vanguard.